Correction to This Article
In one edition, a March 12 article about Hurricane Katrina recovery misstated the year in which Hurricane Camille hit. It hit in 1969. A March 12 article about Hurricane Katrina's damage to agriculture and other industries incorrectly said that Mississippi's Pearl River County is on the Gulf of Mexico. It is about 20 miles inland.

In Mississippi, Katrina Yields Bitter Harvest

Dairyman David Fazio of Perkinston lost 110 cows but has not gotten a
Dairyman David Fazio of Perkinston lost 110 cows but has not gotten a "drop" of aid. Many neighbors have abandoned their farms. (Photos By Spencer Hsu -- The Washington Post)

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By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006

PERKINSTON, Miss. -- David Fazio's dairy farm rises like an oasis from the wind-shattered woods. Fields of green ryegrass, shade oak trees, and pink and red magnolias bespeak order amid the twisted, gray wilderness wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Even here, 30 miles north of Mississippi's Gulf Coast, the lives of things that grow and sprout -- and of the people who tend them -- were not spared by the hurricane.

Among Fazio's neighbors, 14 of 20 dairy farmers have abandoned their herds and homesteads. Fazio himself lost 110 of 180 cows after the Aug. 29 storm, which did $125,000 damage to all four structures and the family farmhouse on his 125-acre plot -- equal to five years' earnings.

After smashing 90 miles of seabed and filling it with jagged debris, Katrina roared north along Interstate 59 and spawned sustained winds of 120 mph as far as 80 miles inland. In that wedge of devastation, boats and processing plants were smashed. Wood-plank hay barns and tin-roofed dairy sheds were shredded. And this region's stoic fishermen and farmers became the forgotten victims of the storm, lost in the misery of metropolitan New Orleans and the Mississippi coast.

Around small towns such as Petal and Laurel, as well as the coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison and Pearl River, scores of small farmers who normally would be harvesting blueberries, greens, squash, bell peppers and fresh cut flowers through the mild winter are idle because buyers from New Orleans farmers markets and Mississippi casino restaurants were blown away.

Across timber-rich southern Mississippi, the storm blew down or made impossible to machine harvest about $1 billion in old-growth hardwood and pine forest, wiping out wealth for 60,000 landowners that took generations to build. At Gulf of Mexico lookouts such as Point Cadet in Biloxi, 60 seafood processing and operations centers, and 500 shrimp boats employing 4,300 people, were knocked out, crippling an $800 million industry.

"It was a lot of equity, and people's fortunes, that were just taken away in one 12-hour period," said Joe Sanderson, chairman and chief executive of Sanderson Farms Inc., who reported Katrina's agriculture and marine impacts on a commission set up by Gov. Haley Barbour (R). Invoking the memory of a 1969 hurricane, he said: "The coast had Camille before, but this was something completely different for the inland counties. . . . Camille was terrible, but this was many times worse."

All told, Mississippi's agriculture, forestry and marine industries -- which account for one-third of the jobs and economic product of this unwealthy state -- lost more than $10 billion.

Poultry growers were mostly insured, and cotton-rich Delta farmers dodged Katrina's winds. But nonindustrial tree farmers -- who hold 69 percent of the state's timber acreage -- received just $400 million from Congress, a fraction of their losses.

Offshore, Katrina turned sea lanes and rich fishing grounds in the Mississippi Sound into minefields. Visible at low tide in aerial photographs, the wreckage of thousands of cars, chunks of homes and buildings, even soda machines, threaten to rip hulls and nets come the start of fishing season, June 1.

Many experts say the industry may never recover, as land prices rise and wharves and canneries here go the way of those that used to dot the Chesapeake and California's Monterey Bay.

"It's like a way of life that has a possibility of disappearing down there, and my memories of the coast for 50 years -- and for some of the people down there, much longer than that -- has a potential to disappear. That would be a shame," Sanderson said.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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